tv [untitled] April 13, 2012 7:00am-7:30am EDT
friend of the "uss monitor" for quite some time. and i'm so pleased that his book has been reissued with a brand-new name, right up here. we have it in the gift shop. i've got to admit i was an english literature nerd. and so the fact that he used so much melville and hawthorne in his book just made me so happy. well, david mendel is a historian and engineer. we're not sure when he sleeps either. he is also director of mit's program on technology and science and interdisciplinary department. see an expert on human machine relationships in broad technical, social, and historical context. now for years he has been combining engineering and historical research into the evolution of humans' relationships to machines.
his book "digital apollo, human and machine and space flight" examines computers, and automation in the apollo moon landings. his first book aboard the "uss monitor" now reissued as "iron coffin" was awarded the sally hacker prize by the society for the history of technology. before coming to mit, he worked as a research engineer in the deep submergence laboratory where he is now a visiting investigator. maybe we'll find out what he is investigating. he has conducted all kinds of research there and worked on -- operated on autonomous underwater vehicles for exploring the deepest parts of the ocean and even developed the control system and pilot interface for the woods hole jason vehicle. so the man has done a little bit of everything. monitor, apollo, bronze age
shipwrecks, he does it all. today he is going to be telling us about our favorite ironclad. and i just noticed he has a degree in literature. i knew i liked him. and an electrical engineering from yale university, his doctorate in the history of technology from mit. so without further ado, david mendel. [ applause ] >> thank you. when anna invited me on the program, you know, i asked her if i should give a talk. she said how about an interpretive dance. so i'll now start my interpretive dance. no. just kidding. actually, funny that she mentioned all the various things i've been involved in over the years. they actually are all connected. i'll try 20 show you that in the talk. the title of the talk is the title of the reissued book as anna mentioned.
you might call the unofficial title confessions of a monitor nerd, because i want to talk a little bit about the book was originally published in the year 2000. and i want to talk a little bit about what that history looked like when i first started working on it, and then what has happened in the last ten years, which is what the new parts of the book are just a little bit about, and a lot of what has happened with the monitor in the last ten years has been right here by people in this room. so i started working on this project in 1992. and it was not by coincidence, and i'll come back to this right after the end of the first gulf war. and there was a lot of talk about push button warfare and robotic warfare and remote controlled warfare. and i was taking a class with pauline mayer and merit ross smith, who is here with me in the audience who was any thesis adviser and one of the two people the book is dedicated on
early industrial american technology. and started looking at the monitor story. and at that time, 20 years ago now, it seemed like a story that everybody knew everything about. first fight between ironclads, monitor and merrimac, monitor and virginia, however you want to talk about it, best known story in naval history, most famous battle, john erickson, the hero, you have heard it all. and i began looking a little bit at the document saying what is interesting here about technology? and this is a typical representation of the battle, actually a very good one. another more traditional one is the one on the u.s. postal service stamp from 1995. and the battle is almost always described as the fight between ironclads. it is a battle between machines. and many of these famous presentations are notable for
the complete lack of people. very much a mechanical warfare. this is, again, this is actually from erickson's contributions to the centennial exhibition, but one of the sort of iconic drawings of the ship. very geometric, very clean, very lacking in human dimensions as it is john erickson's imagination. that is how the story has come down. i got interested in other parts of the story. and, you know, in a funny way, thinking about it in the last couple of weeks, the last really major scholarly statement on the monitor i think i had been 1933 when james finney baxter wrote his classic "the intruction of the ironclad warfare." brodie in 1941 -- actually
forgetting -- "power in the age of steam," i think. and there had been interesting forays through the '70s. jim delgado who is around today had written some nice stuff. bill still had written a couple of pieces on the captains and the builders of the monitor. a lot of teasers, but very little kind of reevaluation of what was this ship, what did it mean in the history of technology, in the field of the history of technology, which i'm notionally in, there had been almost nothing. and that was a field that kind of had merged in the end -- after world war ii and the cold war to think about, technology and culture. and it seemed like there was time for a reevaluation. i dived into the library and looked around. and sort of took this dusty old topic all by myself. and began to look at what might be said that was new.
now this photograph, which i'm sure is familiar to all of you and is the cover of the book tells a lot about what might be new. all of the existing literature on the monitor would show you the officers of the monitor. okay. there they are, as an illustration. interestingly, i did a survey. and of the literature on the monitor that existed at that time in 1992, there was never more than a sentence or two, maybe i think in one there was a paragraph about the monitor's summer up the james river in 1862. there is the battle, maybe a little bit about the refit in september in washington, and then the sinking in the end of december. 90% of the monitor's operational life simply did not exist in literature. so i began looking gee, what is going on there. this picture is taken in july of 1862 in the middle of that summer. and i'll quote gust of theus
fox. he came on board the monitor. he was the first person to come on after the battle of hampton roads. he said well, gentlemen, you don't look as though you've just come through the greatest naval battle on record. you might say the same thing about this photograph. these men are not looking all that happy. they're not looking all that shevelled, if that's a word. they are hastily contriving. they are sitting on the covering of the skylights to create a dignified picture. they have thrown their uniforms on, as you can see they're all sort of in different states of array because of the photographer coming on board that day. they are on watch, in hostile territory. you can see the binoculars in the binocular case here. some of the other shots actually have an enlisted man standing on the tarp, keeping watch. they have carefully arranged the photograph, as all these photographs from this period were to show the dents in the armor made by the merrimac. they're very, very proud of that. it's not a coincidence that it's
right there. and they're hot and keeler here is sun burnt. they have been exposed to the sun, literally baking inside the bowels of the iron monster,ed a as they said. up on the james river, supporting mcclellan's at this time failing peninsula campaign. and it's been a very rough time. two of these gentlemen have particular reason to look ornery because they have less than six months to live. they died in the sinking. george frederickson and i'm forgetting the name of this gentleman. i'm sure somebody here will remember. and samuel dana green, the first lieutenant, is looking particularly unhappy. and the full weight of the ambiguity of the outcome of the encounter with the merrimac was then falling on green's shoulders. and it would plague him for at least -- well, not at least -- exactly another 20 years or so. and so this picture i have it up
in sort of -- it blows up very well. i blew it up from the national archive. it's in my office at mit. and captures a lot of the clues that there is maybe a lot more going on here than the traditional heroic story. then you have captain jennifers sitting by himself next to an empty chair. he was of course not the captain who was in the famous battle, but was assigned -- actually there were a couple of captains between him and when he took over. he was the captain for the summer, most of the summer of 1862. interestingly, in may of 1862, he wrote an extremely good and very honest account of the strengths and weaknesses of the monitor before gideon wells, the commander of the secretary. he really nailed it on the head in a whole bunch of different ways. another part of that story, the famous story is erickson the great inventor thrust this invention, radical invention on the navy, and the old fogies, that's a phrase you see all the time